Pasta

Blush Mac and Cheese with Tomatoes

Pasta? What’s pasta? I haven’t had it in so long, I think I’ve almost forgot. How crazy it is to me that I eat so little pasta these days when it was my dinner EVERYDAY when I was a vegetarian ten years ago. When people would ask what my favorite meal was? The answer was easily pasta. Now? I don’t even consider it. How did this happen? I don’t even recognize myself anymore. It’s amazing how when you are careful with what you eat, your tastes can change when you aren’t looking. I’ve dabbled in low-carb diets for years. Initially, they were impossibly hard. But now, I’ve found that I feel better and have fewer cravings so it’s easier. I still eat carbs, clearly, but now I can have pasta once in a while and truly enjoy it. This Blush Mac and Cheese with Tomatoes is a fun way to make an old classic pasta dish new again.

A creamy cheese sauce is made vibrant with additional flavors of tomato, shallot, garlic, thyme and spinach before being mixed with corkscrew pasta and topped with juicy, roasted grape tomatoes. The cheese sauce isn’t as cheesy as typical mac and cheese but the addition of the tomato paste and spinach make this feel more like a grown-up version of our childhood classic. I used quinoa pasta instead of regular pasta (but only because I couldn’t find whole-wheat) so my overall texture was a bit different than expected but still good nonetheless. The roasted grape tomatoes add a burst of sweetness and the spinach provides a nutritional boost. While I wouldn’t necessarily consider this mac and cheese, it didn’t disappoint.

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Preheat broiler to high. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain. While pasta cooks, place tomatoes on a jelly-roll pan lined with foil. Broil 8 minutes or until tomatoes are beginning to blacken.

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While tomatoes cook, heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add canola oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add diced shallots, minced garlic, and thyme; sauté 2 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently.

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Add tomato paste; cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add flour; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in milk, black pepper, and salt; bring to a boil. Cook 4 minutes or until thick and bubbly, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.

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Add spinach, stirring constantly until spinach starts to wilt.

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Add shredded cheddar cheese, and stir until smooth.

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Stir in cooked pasta.

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Top with the roasted tomatoes.

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Additions: None

Omissions: None

Substitutions:

  • Quinoa pasta

Overall Rating: Like It

Source: Cooking Light magazine

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Cheesy Penne with Broccoli

I’ve mentioned this before but I’m shocked by how little I eat pasta anymore. When I was a vegetarian, it was all I ate. Which may be why I never lost weight. Now, I appreciate a good pasta meal but I don’t crave it (thankfully). I had some milk and cheese in my refrigerator that I didn’t know what to do with and some lingering penne that just never seemed to go away. This is typically how I decide what foods to make – by looking at what’s left in my fridge/pantry. Because even though I love to cook, I don’t love to spend a lot of money at the grocery. This Cheesy Penne with Broccoli was an easy way for me to use up some leftover staples I had hanging around my kitchen without having to spend a dime.

Cream cheese, Parmesan cheese, and cheddar cheese are all melted into an easy milky cream sauce and poured over cooked penne and boiled broccoli. The result is this hearty dish which will satisfy any pasta craving you have. The cheese sauce, even with it’s three cheeses, it light and thin enough to be a backup singer to this song. And even though I get weak (in a good way) when mustard is added to cheese sauce, the best part (in my opinion) is the broccoli. I mean, broccoli and cheese? Yes please. I have to point out that broccoli being my favorite anything is something that never would have come out of my childhood mouth. My how things have changed. Now, I won’t even consider pasta unless it has a veggie in it.

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Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. During the last 3 minutes of cooking, add broccoli to pan; drain. Place pasta and broccoli in a large bowl.

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Combine milk and flour in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Cook 5 minutes or until slightly thickened; remove from heat.

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Add 2 tablespoons Parmesan, cream cheese, Dijon, salt, pepper, nutmeg and cheddar cheese, stirring with a whisk until smooth.

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Add cheese mixture to pasta mixture; toss.

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Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan.

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Additions: None

Omissions: None

Substitutions:

  • Whole-wheat penne
  • Whole grain Dijon

Overall Rating: Like It

Source: Cooking Light magazine

Turkey Sausage and Spinach Lasagna

I don’t know what has happened to me but I think I’ve turned into a little girl again getting all giddy every time Frozen comes on television. The past couple of weekends, I’ve been getting ready to cook some food and scroll through the tv stations for background noise only to find Frozen on one of the cable channels. When I see it’s on, I can’t help but turn it on. And yes, I sing at the top of my lungs. Frozen has become one of those movies I turn on whenever it’s on. I’m even pretty darn close to downloading it. I mean, I have a niece who turns six on Friday so I should at least download it so I have it available for her to watch when she visits, right? It only seems like the right thing to do. Anyway, one dish I made while belting out Let It Go was this Turkey Sausage and Spinach Lasagna.

Hot turkey sausage, fresh spinach, shallots and garlic are the basis of this lasagna which is layered with no-boil lasagna noodles, ricotta cheese, and a béchamel white sauce. Topped with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, this tomato-less lasagna is creamy, a little spicy, and a lot flavorful. It makes six servings so this is a great meal for a family or easy to portion control for lunches or dinner leftovers. Maybe you won’t feel like making lasagna during the summer but after watching Frozen for the umpteenth time, I felt like having a warm meal. Do you want to build a snowman?

If you like this, check out Turkey Lasagna.

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Weigh or lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, milk, stock, oil and bay leaf in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring with a whisk. Cook 8 minutes or until thick and bubbly, stirring frequently. Remove from heat; stir in salt and pepper. Spread 1 cup milk mixture in bottom of an 11 x 7-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray.

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Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons water and spinach to pan; cook 2 minutes or until spinach wilts. Drain spinach, pressing until barely moist. Increase heat to medium-high. Remove casings from sausage. Add sausage to pan; cook 4 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble. Remove sausage from pan. Add shallots and garlic to pan; sauté 2 minutes. Stir in remaining milk mixture, spinach, and cooked sausage. Remove pan from heat.

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Arrange 2 noodles over milk mixture in baking dish; top with 1/2 cup ricotta and one-third spinach mixture. Repeat layers twice. Sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375°F for 40 minutes. Remove foil.

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Preheat broiler to high. Broil 4 minutes or until cheese is golden brown.

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Let stand 10 minutes.

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Additions:  None

Omissions:  None

Substitutions:  None

Overall Rating: Love It

Source: Cooking Light magazine

Orzo Salad with Peas and Feta

My 4th of July plans are pretty low key this year and I plan on curling up with a good book, a turkey burger and a cocktail. But so many people will be heading to the beach, the lake, the park, the pool or a friend’s house for fireworks and that means needing food. Maybe you’ll be having a burger like me or something else grilled. Maybe you’ll take this holiday weekend to consume as much ice cream as you can. Or maybe it’s the time to eat salads and I don’t mean the leafy green kind. I mean the potato-y, mayonnaise-y, pasta-y kind. This Orzo Salad has been a long time staple of mine which is my go-to dish whenever there is a potluck at work, a picnic or any impromptu get-together.

Quick-cooking orzo, frozen peas, and feta cheese are mixed together with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper. That’s it. This pasta salad is so fast to make and easy to throw together at the last minute. This salad doesn’t have a lot of ingredients so the vinegar comes through nicely without being too overpowering and the peas add a subtle sweetness which pairs so well with the pasta. I used basil instead of parsley because I had it on hand but any herb would work here. The herbs provide a bold freshness which only complements this pasta. Orzo cooks in about nine minutes so if you have a box on hand, this is something that you can pull together quickly. Give this a try anytime you need a quick side whether it’s a holiday weekend or not. I bet it’ll become your go-to recipe too.

If you like this, also check out Orzo Salad with Corn, Tomatoes, and Basil.

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Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, and toss well to coat.

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Cover bowl and chill for 1 hour.

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Additions: None

Omissions: None

Substitutions:

  • White balsamic vinegar
  • Reduced-fat feta cheese

Overall Rating: Love It

Source: Cooking Light magazine

Easy Cherry Tomato Pasta Sauce

I have to be honest.  I’ve been trying to watch my carbs lately.  It’s a pattern with me.  I get mad at myself so I torture myself by watching my carbs and end up getting mad at myself even more.  So, straight up I’ll tell you that I made this recipe for Easy Cherry Tomato Pasta Sauce a while ago.  I wish I could say I made it recently but sadly, no.  Would I give my left arm for some of this now WITH the pasta underneath it? Probably.

Cherry or grape tomatoes are added to olive oil, garlic and red pepper flake and heated until they open up and become juicy (if they don’t open on their own, use a wooden spoon and get some delight in popping them open against the side of the pan – it’s kind of like popping bubble wrap).  Once heated through and the juices flow, remove from the heat and add fresh basil.  Literally, that is it.  When the title of this recipe says “Easy”, it means it.  And not only is this easy to make but it truly is so fresh tasting that my first bite made me think of what fresh restaurant pasta sauce tastes like.  The only thing I have to say is that I used A LOT less olive oil that it called for.  I used 1/4 cup (as opposed to 1/2 cup) and my sauce was plenty oily.  Next time, I’ll use even less.  So use your own judgment when it comes to the oil.  You want the tomatoes to be the star and trust me, if I stick to this low-carb thing much longer, I’m not too proud to make this sauce and just eat it with a spoon.  Seriously.

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The ingredients:

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Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper; cook, stirring constantly, 1 to 2 minutes.

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Add tomatoes, salt, and black pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, 5 minutes. (If tomatoes stay whole during cooking, pierce each one with the tip of a knife to release juices; cook 1 or 2 more minutes.)

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Remove from heat; stir in basil.

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Divide pasta among serving bowls; top with tomato sauce, cheese, pine nuts, and additional black pepper, if desired.

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Additions:  None

Omissions:

  • Pine nuts

Substitutions:  None

Overall Rating:  Love It

Source:  Coastal Living magazine

Grilled Chicken Florentine Pasta

I have to say that I’m pretty happy about the fact that I don’t eat nearly as much pasta as I used to.  Considering at one point, about ten years ago, I ate pasta on a nightly basis (with nary a vegetable in sight), the once in a blue moon pasta I now have is all that more enjoyable.  I could very easily get back into a routine of eating pasta all the time but I actually like only eating it once in a while.  In an Italian restaurant, if I’m going to splurge on pasta, the first thing I look for is some kind of pasta mixed with veggies in a cream sauce.  It’s bad, I know, but it’s what I love when I let myself eat it.  This Grilled Chicken Florentine Pasta is a perfect pasta dinner, in my humble opinion, which can easily be made at home.

Milk, chicken broth and Parmesan cheese are cooked until thick and bubbly before being mixed with spinach to create a creamy Florentine sauce.  Chicken, which has been grilled, is added with freshly cooked linguine to the sauce to make a light pasta dish reminiscent of pasta alfredo.  This was such a simple pasta dish to make and can easily be made with any preferred pasta, any preferred cheese, or any preferred vegetable.  Instead of bone-in chicken, I used chicken tenderloins  but I think precooked rotisserie chicken would be a great quick substitute also.  A dish with such versatility is one that I can really get behind.  Because the creamy sauce is made with broth in addition to the milk helps to keep calories down without sacrificing flavor.  I used 1% lowfat milk instead of whole milk and I didn’t feel like any flavors were sacrificed.  If you are looking for a warm, comfort food pasta dish, try this!

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The ingredients:

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Prepare grill to medium-high heat.  Sprinkle chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Place chicken on grill rack coated with cooking spray, and grill until internal temperature reads 165 degrees.

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Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain well; keep warm.

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Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add flour and garlic; cook until garlic is browned (about 2 minutes), stirring constantly.

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Add milk and broth, stirring with a whisk; bring to a simmer, and cook 2 minutes or until thickened. Add cheese, stirring until cheese melts.

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Add remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and spinach; stir until spinach wilts.

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Add pasta and chicken; toss to combine.

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Top with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

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Additions:  None

Omissions:  None

Substitutions:

  • Chicken tenderloins
  • 1% lowfat milk

Overall Rating:  Love It

Source:  Cooking Light magazine

Turkey Lasagna

Well, here we are on New Year’s Eve…again.  How does one year go by so fast?  For that matter, how does a decade or two decades go by so fast?  It was 22 years ago today that I lost my mom and it’s still so unreal.  I don’t get sad on this anniversary anymore because the sadness comes on throughout the year when I least expect it and it’s enough.  Instead of mourning her on this day, I choose to celebrate her and think of the many times I would stand at the kitchen table with her and assemble lasagna.  It was one of my favorite meals to make with her because we each had our roles.  She would be standing at the counter mixing ground beef and tomato sauce in the electric skillet while I would stand nearby stirring a bowl of cottage cheese, parmesan cheese and egg.  Then we would come together and do the layering until we were left with the perfect pan of lasagna ready for baking in the oven.  I can’t not think of her each time I make lasagna and I’m glad I do.  Making this Turkey Lasagna was no different.

This particular recipe comes from my aunt who started making this a few Christmases ago.  She had found it in the newspaper and liked it so much, it became a regular meal in the rotation.  Ground turkey (or ground chicken) is browned and mixed with jarred marinara, spinach and basil.   A little bit of ricotta is added, making the meat sauce slightly creamy.  Lasagna noodles, meat sauce and parmesan cheese are layered and baked until gold and bubbly.  What I love about this lasagna in particular is not just the addition of the spinach but also that there isn’t much cheese so it keeps the calories down.  Rather than having ricotta or mozzarella cheese layered in, the little bit of ricotta and sprinkle of parmesan is just enough.  If you don’t like lasagna unless it’s dripping with cheese, you might not like this.  But if you want a flavorful, tasty lasagna that won’t make you feel too guilty, this might be for you.  And just as I did when I was a kid, I used the extra noodles to scoop up the leftover meat sauce until the pan was clean.  I just wish my mom was there to do it with me.

Turkey Lasagna (from Chicago Tribune)

  • 1 box (16 ounces) lasagna noodles
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 pounds ground lean turkey
  • 2 jars (25 ounces each) marinara sauce
  • 1 bag (8 ounces) fresh spinach, chopped, stems removed
  • 1 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup low-fat ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cook noodles according to package instructions; drain.  Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add garlic. Cook, stirring, until softened, about 30 seconds.  Add turkey; cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon until cooked through, about 3 minutes.  Add sauce; cook 1 more minute.  Add spinach, basil and pepper; cook, stirring constantly, until leaves wilt, about 2 minutes.  Add ricotta; lower heat to simmer.  Cook 1 minute; remove from stove.  Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread 1/2 cup of the sauce in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish; top with at least 4 to 5 noodles. Spread 1 cup of sauce over noodles; sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the Parmesan cheese. Repeat process until remaining noodles are used.  Bake for 25 minutes, cool for at least 7 minutes before serving.

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The ingredients:

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Cook noodles according to package instructions; drain.  Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add garlic. Cook, stirring, until softened, about 30 seconds.  Add turkey; cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon until cooked through, about 3 minutes.

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Add sauce; cook 1 more minute.  Add spinach, basil and pepper; cook, stirring constantly, until leaves wilt, about 2 minutes.  Add ricotta; lower heat to simmer.  Cook 1 minute; remove from stove.

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Heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spread 1/2 cup of the sauce in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish; top with at least 4 to 5 noodles.  Spread 1 cup of sauce over noodles; sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the Parmesan cheese. Repeat process until remaining noodles are used.  Bake for 25 minutes.

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Cool for at least 7 minutes before serving.

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Additions:  None

Omissions:  None

Substitutions:

  • Shredded parmesan cheese

Overall Rating:  Love It

Source:  Chicago Tribune

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